Phlog

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

I am, as some of you may know, a flag-flying, gold-medal technophobe. My friends at MOJO will confirm that when I walked into the office they would hug their computers close to their chests to protect them from my destructive analog energy. And my nine-year-old mobile goes to a special school for un-smart phones. So I suppose it was a bit ambitious to buy a mini i-Pad. So far I’ve managed not to break it (though I did break something digital – my big toe!).
Since I seem to be getting along better with taking photos on its camera than typing words on its little keyboard, may I present, as a tribute to my new device, a mini Phlog.

Starting with a mini video, a few seconds from the gig ‘The Night Before Leonard’ at the Marsh in Berkeley, the day before Leonard Cohen’s show at the Paramount Theatre. That’s Matthew Szemela on violin, Colleen Browne on bass and colour-coordination, and me being pale and mysterious on the uke.
— oops, just as I was feeling confident, my first failure. It won’t upload.

So let’s move straight onto: Sylvie (plus Julie, Perla and Ronee) Goes To Austin!

En route to the airport: We really must address the disturbing issue of suicidal instruments before it’s too late. At the subway station I spotted this tragic recorder just after it threw itself at the live rail.

We must address the disturbing issue of suicidal musical instruments before it’s too late. On the way to the airport I spotted this tragic recorder on the subway just after it threw itself at the live rail.

Here we are in sunny Austin, brilliant sunlight, a perfect day. Greg Ashley and I have arranged to meet up to run through a few Leonard songs together the day before my gig at South Congress Books. Since everywhere in Austin’s mobbed with people during SXSW, we drove down a back street, parked and set off on foot to find an empty sidewalk where we could sit and play, and we spotted this place on the way, which was selling a PA system. One of the songs we did was True Love Leaves No Traces – from ‘Death of A Ladies Man’, the album Leonard Cohen made with Phil Spector. Greg’s band has recorded a cover of the whole album, released in cassette-form, perfect for technophobes.

Jesus Deaf Church, Austin, TX, speakers for sale

And here’s Greg in the bookshop’s parking lot the following day. In the doorway, John Barton, my old friend from Austin who arranged the gig. Thurston Moore was there too, but I forgot to get my i-Pad out for that.

Same parking lot but me this time, with my uke and a free pair of sunglasses promoting something or other, which I’ve fallen unreasonably in love with.

Free sunglasses!

This is the poster for the gig Julie Christensen, Ronee Blakley and I did at Austin Java, a cool cafe on Barton Springs Rd. The acoustics were so sweet and warm – which I credit to them having a huge tree indoors, too big to hug, growing up through the floorboards and out through the roof.

Austin Java

And finally… I Want You, one of the newish US TV pop idol contest shows, has seen sense and become I Want Uke!

I Want Uke

Well, thanks for watching. Next stop: New York City!

Digital taping

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon and I’m just back from taking my broken toe for a walk. Big toe, right foot, a week ago exactly, on my last day in Austin, TX but you all know the first rule of SXSW. What happens in SXSW stays in SXSW. Oddly, I broke the same toe exactly ten years ago, in London. That time it was on the way to interview Buffy Sainte-Marie, and tripped in my brand new scarlet Doc Martens and snapped my toe. Pro that I am, I jumped in a cab and hopped into her hotel room not a minute late; sweetheart that she is, she unlaced my boot, rushed off to fill her ice bucket, put my foot in it and would have probably made a splint out of the bedpost if I’d let her. Turns out that all they can do for a broken toe is tape it up, tell you not to play (English) football or let anyone step on it for six weeks, and not to take it personally when everyone falls about laughing and says you walk like a duck.

digital taping

digital taping


So far I’ve followed their advice. But now I’m faced with a wardrobe dilemma. This evening I have to be at Walnut Creek’s Authors under the Stars Gala – it’s a benefit for their library system, where people pay a couple of hundred dollars apiece to sit with me or the participating author of their choice (see list below – and hooray, my table’s sold out!) – and I’m expected to dress for the occasion. Hmm. So it looks like it’ll have to be a little black dress and… Uggs.
But let’s time travel back to the day when all my digits were fully-functional and high heels an option: South by Southwest. I had a brilliant time. There was the usual insane scrum of people, of course (an aerial view of 6th St on Friday night would definitely have been a contender for the Bosch painting lookalike award) and long lines outside a lot of the cool shows, but one of the great things is that you keep running into people on the street that you know and like and don’t expect to see. Like my friend Phil from London, who’d popped over at the last minute on an assignment for Q. Or Thurston Moore, who just happened to drop by South Congress Books – where I was doing a reading and playing some Leonard Cohen songs with Greg Ashley – to buy something. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him at any length since my Serge Gainsbourg book.
But the big highlight of the week for me was my panel ‘Leonard Cohen and his Women’, with three of my favourite such women, Julie Christensen, Perla Batalla and Ronee Blakley. We ended up going overtime, and closed with a few spontaneous songs. To sit next to Ronee while she sang Hank Williams, acapella (Leonard Cohen loves Hank) and Julie and Perla as they duetted on Anthem – and then have them sing backing vocals to me and my uke on Famous Blue Raincoat (and thank you Colin Gilmore for being my uke roadie) is so many kinds of wonderful. If and when SXSW posts their video, I’ll pass it on.

SXSW: ‘Leonard Cohen and his Women’

http://www.austinchronicle.com/music/2013-03-15/leonard-cohen-and-his-women/